Ike is to Spartans’ liking
Cardinals fall twice to Oak Lawn in SSC Red
By Ken Karrson
At long last Oak Lawn caught a break.
Not that Spartans coach Bill Gerny would ever downplay any opponent, but the reality is a grim scheduling situation grew a little less so last week when Oak Lawn entered South Suburban Conference Red play. While Eisenhower certainly wasn’t going to roll over and die for the Spartans, it also didn’t present nearly as huge an obstacle to clear as several nonconference foes had the week before.
And Oak Lawn didn’t squander its opportunity to get back on track. It did so by nipping the Cardinals 2-1 last Monday and then blanking them 8-0 in a Tuesday rematch. The good times continued through Wednesday too as the Spartans got past Harlan 7-5.
Lincoln-Way West brought an end to the festivities with an 11-5 triumph on Friday in a game that was hastily scheduled after Morgan Park backed out of an agreement to meet Oak Lawn on Saturday. What made the loss to the Warriors go down a little easier for Gerny was that, in comparison to some earlier setbacks, the Spartans exhibited fight after Lincoln-Way West jumped out to a 10-3 edge in the first two innings.
“It had the feel of a St. Rita or Lyons Township [matchup], where we dug ourselves a hole and folded up,” he said. “But I was glad to see our guys competed and didn’t let it get out of hand. It was a good warm-up for Richards [this past Monday and Tuesday].”
Oak Lawn (4-7, 2-0) immediately dealt itself into the SSC Red race by shuffling the Cards aside with strong pitching. Both sophomore Chad Cwik and senior Matt Witkowski excelled, the former doing so first by tossing a complete game with seven strikeouts and two hits allowed. Cwik needed just 87 pitches to outduel Eisenhower’s Justin Longoria, who limited the Spartans to five hits.
Two of those followed a hit batsman in the first, however, and gave Oak Lawn the only runs it required to prevail. Joe Dodaro slammed a double to drive in Boo Quillin and John Roberts’ single plated Dodaro.
“[For a while] it was like a reoccurring nightmare,” Gerny said of his club’s offense. “[Longoria] had control of three different pitches and our guys were [often] out on their front foot. It’d be nice to step on [an opponent’s] throat when we get them down.”
The Spartans put two men aboard in a couple other innings but to no avail. Of particular note was the fifth, which began with a Cardinals error and Quillin’s double but concluded quietly when a groundout and two strikeouts followed in succession.
Those failures nearly came back to haunt Oak Lawn, but Cwik made sure the potential tying run got left at second base in the seventh by ending the contest with a strikeout.
“We hadn’t pitched him in two weeks [because of elbow tenderness], but he was really in control,” Gerny said of Cwik. “It was definitely a step in the right direction for us and a nice change from what happened the week before, and it was nice to give ourselves a little bit of a cushion starting out in conference.”
Witkowski, who’d taken two losses the previous week, was also dominant against Eisenhower as he silenced it on five hits while whiffing eight batters on Tuesday. He issued no walks and was supported by improved fielding behind him.
“Our defense has been such a black hole,” Gerny said. “One of the things we’ve been stressing is getting dirty and getting down to get balls in the infield.”
With the pitching and defense in good working order, all the Spartans needed to complete a series sweep was some hits. Oak Lawn piled up 13 of them, four of which were supplied by Bobby Beard.
His double and Dodaro’s single gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead in the second and Ryne Melnik’s sacrifice fly eventually chased in another run. Dodaro’s first-inning single had gotten Oak Lawn’s scoring underway, and neither he nor Beard was done making an impact.
Beard’s single and Dodaro’s sacrifice fly were both part of a four-run fourth and Beard singled home Quillin (single) with the Spartans’ final tally in the seventh after Roberts doubled in between them. Also providing RBI for Oak Lawn was Yunis Halim, who did so with his two-run single.
Oak Lawn 7
Last Wednesday’s game was played in cool and windy conditions and got stopped after five innings because of approaching darkness. Before that happened, the Spartans roared back from a 4-0 deficit to bag a satisfying victory.
Gerny had anticipated trouble for his hitters when he got a look at Harlan’s hard-throwing pitcher, but doubles by Quillin, Beard (RBI) and Roberts (RBI) during Oak Lawn’s first at-bat allayed those fears. Dodaro also contributed a run-scoring single as the Spartans climbed into a 4-all tie.
“Our guys are accustomed to seeing guys with that kind of fastball and a good secondary pitch,” Gerny said. “They’ve had to battle at the plate, but when all they were seeing [here] was fastballs, they were able to time them and have some fun. Our guys completely proved me wrong.”
Dodaro and Quillin both had RBI doubles later in the contest. Gerny has especially liked Dodaro’s recent play.
“He’s thriving in pressure situations,” Gerny said. “If there’s guys on base in a clutch situation, he’s been coming through. It’s good to see.”
Oak Lawn finished with nine hits and was victorious despite giving up a dozen free passes to the Falcons. While Gerny wasn’t thrilled with that aspect of the Spartans’ performance, he did appreciate their ability to take care of business against a comparable foe.
“Harlan looked like a team very similar to us -- good players but with a tendency to make some mistakes,” Gerny said. “It was nice to see how we matched up with teams other than the top teams. There were positives to build off of.”
Ivan Georgelos and Quillin both poked two-run singles for Oak Lawn versus Lincoln-Way West. Dodaro also collected an RBI while Beard doubled. Among three pitchers Halim was the most prominent as he worked 4 1/3 innings of relief on a yield of only two hits.
Besides their confrontations with Richards, the Spartans also had scheduled games against Tinley Park, Marist and Hillcrest this week.
“We’ll have a better idea of how the [rest of the] season’s going to go after this week,” Gerny said. “Richards week is always a big week.”